I’ve been following the news about ChatGPT generated short story submissions with some dismay. If you’re not aware, some markets, for example the excellent Clarkesworld, have been so swamped they have been forced to temporarily close to submissions.
The problems with dealing with this kind of spamming seem to be those of scale, granularity, and cost. Small magazines don’t have the staff resources to effectively filter out all the bogus submissions, automated checks cost money they don’t have, and are not 100% effective – they generate both false positives and negatives.
It’s a problem.
I decided to ask my two sons, Ashley and Tom, if they had any ideas. As co-founders of Scirra, and authors of the Construct3 game creation software, they have a lifetime of experience dealing with cutting edge internet technology, coding, and transaction validation.
Our thanks to everyone who joined us for our first, successful Speculative Ficion Open Mic.
A unique open mic designed to bring a different side of the genre communities together. It was an enjoyable experience which we heard from writers who have completed novels or reading from work in progress.
The range on offer covered paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, the funny and the serious. From novels and short pieces.
I was back at the King’s Head in Beverly for the latest Humber SF event. The evening featured two wonderful authors: Sunyi Dean and Daniel Godfrey, who provided entertaining readings from their latest novels, talked about their writing practice and answered lots of questions from the audience.
Sunyi’s said she wanted to celebrate the north of England and so set her book, The Book Eaters, in Yorkshire. Promoted as ‘gothic fantasy horror’ this is a story of ‘escape, a mother’s savage devotion and a queer love.’ This book contains two timelines, one in the present day and the other having a definite Victorian feel to it—inspired by Sunyi’s love of the work of the Bronte sisters. With a smile, Sunyi told the audience that her editor said her book was ‘fantasy for people who hate fantasy’—those in the audience who had read the book were keen to disagree—they loved it! This is Sunyi’s debut novel and it’s clearly a winner. When asked about the process of finding a publisher, she did comment that there is an industry shift away from ‘series’ and towards stand-alone books or duologies.
Daniel’s book, The Calculations of Rational Men, is set in the 1960’s, following an alternate history where the UK is subjected to a nuclear attack. Five hundred prisoners are trapped underground awaiting the ‘all clear’. Those that had read the book were impressed by the clear 1960’s level of awareness of medical knowledge (the protagonist is a medical doctor imprisoned for murder) and the then understanding of nuclear weapons and the effects of radiation. Daniel used a 1960’s medical book as a reference and said he was lucky to find information on how nuclear shelters would have operated. He even went to have a look around a nuclear bunker in York. One audience member commented: it was amazing how much happened (in the book) given the limited space the men were trapped in.
A very entertaining evening with two more books added to my reading list!
King’s Head, Beverly was the venue for another great event from Humber SFF, organised by the redoubtable Shellie Horst. The guests were a very entertaining double act: Stephen Aryan and RJ Barker. Both are established authors with multiple books to their names, and both offered the gathered audience useful insights into the publishing industry and the life of a writer.
Stephen Aryan’s latest novels are a duology: The Coward and The Warrior. The Coward looks at the reality of post-traumatic stress and what happens when the hero is recalled to save the world a second time.
RJ Barker regaled the audience with his journey from failed musician to successful writer. His Tide Child trilogy is set in a remarkable world where Bone Ships sail the seas. He asked himself what would a world look like without a resource which we take for granted? In this case: wood or material to build boats/ships. He was inspired by whalebone carvings and created a massive ocean-going leviathan that was pursued to extinction in order to use its bones to build ships. A fascinating world and a fascinating read.
Both authors treated the audience to readings from their current novels. A real pleasure to listen to. Questions from the audience were taken panel-style with both Stephen and RJ pitching in. It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening with several members of the audience being put on RJ’s ‘naughty list’ for asking particularly challenging questions that made both authors dig deep.
I’m looking forward to the next event on 27th November, with Sunyi Dean and Daniel Godfrey as guest speakers. Get your tickets early!
The British Fantasy Society annual convention was held September 17th – 18th at the Raddison Red Hotel, Heathrow. Although a slightly curtailed version of the annual convention that we all know and love, it was still well worth the time, money and effort it took to get there. I arrived on Friday night (16th) so that I would be ready for the full onslaught of panels running through Saturday and Sunday morning.
There was a lot to choose from! I opted to start with ‘Portraying Families in SFFH’ as my own writing is family orientated. The panel discussed the fact that the expectations of readers are now more focused on the depth of familial relationships–they want to see internal conflict and have an opportunity to flex their empathy. While this is certainly true, not all satisfying family dynamics are centered around conflict. For example, the four Fallow sisters in Liz Williams’ Comet Weather provide a more cooperative model of family dynamics.
My next port of call was the panel on ‘Writing Humour’, ably moderated by Sandra Unerman. The panel discussed ‘ways to approach the arduous task of being funny’. It certainly is an arduous task for me. The panel was interesting, informative and, yes, genuinely funny. David Wragg, by his own admission, aims to be intentionally funny in his books; he made it clear that you need the implied consent of the reader and that you must ask yourself: are you making a good point? Dan Hanks emphasised the need for humorous banter to be organic (‘organic’ is a term that came up a lot during the panels); and Jen Williams discussed her challenges around removing humour from her latest crime novel. When is humour appropriate? A good question.
‘Character Development in Short Stories’ was interesting and a good refresher. In short stories, characters are the ‘glue’ that holds everything together. All panelists agreed that any physical descriptions of characters need to be short and must appear early in the story. ‘Love, Sex, Magic: Romance and Relationships in SFFH’ was entertaining in its own way and covered familiar ground around gender issues.
The Guest of Honour this year was Liz Williams, a prolific writer and stalwart of the annual Milford Speculative Fiction Writers’ Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her speak. Knowledgeable, insightful and overall deftly done.
The panels on ‘Religion in SFFH’ and ‘Mental Health in SFFH’ gave me plenty to think about in relation to my writing (and the writing of others). Religion is certainly a useful tool when it comes to world building and can be used to drive the plot forward. What I need to consider is how religion makes my characters think and how it influences their behaviour. And yes, when it comes to the depiction of mental health in SFFH, we really do need to do better. As pointed out by Tej Turner, a mental health issue could just as easily be a strength as a weakness. There was an interesting discussion on the need for trigger warnings in books–again, Tej suggested the use of links to the author’s website rather than include possible spoilers at the beginning of the book.
‘Writing Older Characters’ raised a number of interesting ideas. Firstly, the relationship between how old a character is compared to their natural lifespan, which can be very different in the SFF genres. There was an interesting discussion around the implications of older characters actually being immortal. The point was made that older characters already have their own story arc in motion (baggage, a complicated past) and are likely to have a different perspective on events. There are not as many tropes around older people, which may give a writer more freedom. While older characters can certainly learn new skills (e.g. technical skills), they can’t replicate the mindset of the young. I can’t remember which panelist quoted Oscar Wilde ‘I’m not young enough to know everything’. Terry Pratchett’s character, Nanny Ogg, was agreed to be everyone’s favourite older character. She gets my vote too!
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantasy Convention in Birmingham 🙂
I consume a fair bit of the news of the day, as I expect is true for others. Some of this news I read, some I watch, some I listen to; after all, the world is a complicated place, and when I sit and ponder the state of the world, I feel that I should be as reasonably informed as possible.
Looking out at the world, there seem to me to be some loose commonalities. One of these, and one that has been explored by humanity as long as we’re explored anything, I suspect, is the tension between the individual and the collective.
That is, what’s good for an individual might not be good if applied to everyone, and this we see played out in discussions of resource consumption, our impact on our planet, the phenomenon of climate change and much else that drives the news. Admittedly, there are situations…
This book is a great read. I was involved in critiquing some of the earlier chapters, so I knew I was in for a treat. I wasn’t disappointed! The three point-of-view characters (Valdas, Mizra and Lind) are engaging and believable; I was totally invested in their loves, their dreams and their dilemmas. The novel inhabits an alternative version of history (not my usual go-to genre) that plays out across the pages with a sense of authenticity, which is not dispelled by the traditional use of natural magic by the Landstriders or the darker blood-magic by the antagonist.
I was gripped by the story and enjoyed switching between the point-of-view of all three main characters. Within the pages of Amber Crown you will find rank treachery and heart warming loyalty, some great fight scenes, sensitive sex scenes and, best of all, characters who discover who they truly are. There is a real sense of healing and completion at the end, at least for two of the protagonists. It’s a bit of an open question for the third.
Jacey Bedford: Whoo-hoo! We’ve finished all the critiques. At the beginning of the week, when it all stretched before us, it seemed as though we had so much to get through, and now it’s all behind us. Where has the time gone? Of course we all have rewrites to do. Some of us have managed to do some of it already, but mostly we’ll be taking our rewriting jobs home with us. Tomorrow we have a day off. Some people are staying at Trigonos to do more writing, but seven of us are going into Caernarfon for a little retail therapy and a pub lunch. Personally it will be my first shopping trip since March 2020, so I’m looking forward to it.
Just thought I’d share this photo with you all. They very kindly stuck our group name on the dining table. Spot the deliberate mistake.
It finally happened. After last year’s Covid cancellation, Milford 2021 is finally happening. I drove across to North Wales on Saturday morning with Georgina Kamsika. We picked up Terry Jackman on the way (at Lymm Services) and had an uneventful drive along the coast road to Caernarfon, and then just a little further to Nantlle, where Trigonos sits on the edge of the lake.
Throughout Saturday afternoon fifteen writers gathered – this year from all over England, though some are Americans living in England. We usually get a few people from overseas, but wisely the people coming from America and Japan deferred to 2022 because of Covid travel restrictions.
Milford has a policy of reserving five of the fifteen places for Milford newbies, so I know ten of the writers well, but it’s lovely to welcome new people. I’m pleased to say everyone fits in really…